Gertrude Pridgett, or Ma Rainey as she is more commonly known, was born on April 26, 1886 in Columbus, Georgia, to parents, Thomas and Ella Pridgrett, minstrel show entertainers. When Gertrude was just 14 years old, she followed in her parents footsteps and embarked upon a career in entertaining; she began performing at an opera house in a show called âA Bunch of Black Berries.â
Four years later, in 1904, she met and married William Rainey, a performer in a minstrel show that had come to her town. Gertrude began traveling and performing as a dancer, singer, and comedienne with her husband. He called himself âPa,â so Gertrude adopted âMaâ as her stage name. They traveled throughout the South with various minstrel shows and circuses, including the Rabbit Foot Minstrels.
There were several names the Raineyâs called their show, but they were most known as âRainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues.â They performed in a large tent on a stage floor made of wood plank and used lanterns for lighting. The simplicity of the forum led to Rainey developing one important skill: she learned to âshoutâ due to the lack of a microphone.